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West Overton Museums thrives on volunteers

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Kaidia Pickels | For The Independent-Observer
Some of those who volunteer their time at West Overton Museums are, from left: Matt Petro, Bob Pokrzywa, Aaron Hollis, Jimmy Keller and Sarah Morris.

When the staff of West Overton Museums began the search for volunteers in early spring, its roster already included 28 folks willing to give their time.

Since then, that number has grown to more than 40. Of these volunteers, approximately four or five can be relied upon to work at the museums each weekend.

“Volunteers are how this place thrives,” said Sarah Morris of Connellsville. “We're the grunt workers, but we really enjoy it.”

Morris has been working with West Overton Museums since the winter of 2009. As a volunteer, she works primarily with artifacts and research on the property.

“There is a lot of information, and collecting it all is a big task,” she said.

That's when having as many dedicated volunteers as possible becomes invaluable to the museums.

Four of the newest volunteers, three of whom are local college students, came on board in early May.

“After I decided to become a volunteer, I attended an information session in the spring,” said Aaron Hollis of Scottdale. Hollis, 21, said that during the training session he was taken on a tour of the property in order to orient him to the history of the homestead.

“It was very welcoming and I felt really comfortable after I was shown how to give the tours,” said Hollis, who heard about the need for volunteers from West Overton Museums' sign, located on the property.

Bob Pokrzywa was recommended to apply for a volunteer position by one of his professors at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.

“It's kind of a niche thing,” said Pokrzywa, 20, about why he enjoys volunteering at the museums. “You can really learn a lot about the local history here and how that has an impact on the rest of the United States through the coal and coke industry.”

As docents, the volunteers give tours of the property on weekends to guests of the museums.

The volunteers were happy to share several interesting facts about West Overton that they give on tours, including that it is one of only two pre-Civil War villages left in the United States.

“On tours, we give a lot of information on the Overton family legacy here as well as the local industry,” said Pokrzywa. “Abraham Overholt was definitely ahead of his time. He really was an innovative businessman.”

“One of my favorite places to take visitors on tours is the springhouse, or maybe the summer kitchen,” added Hollis. “Those are my favorite places on the property.”

Jimmy Keller of Scottdale also began volunteering at the museums around the same time.

“There are only a handful of full-time employees who work here so the volunteers are very useful and helpful around here.”

Matt Petro of New Stanton began working at West Overton Village in early May as an intern.

“My goal was to work with digital media to establish more of an online presence,” said Petro, 21, who now works with the volunteers helping to give tours and organize the archives.

“At this point, I feel like I'm working with family,” Hollis said of the volunteers, who happily agreed.

When asked if they'd be returning for another summer working with the museum, all five of the volunteers eagerly acknowledged they'd be happy to come back.

But West Overton Museums is always looking for dedicated volunteers and docents to give their time and help out on the property. The typical age range for volunteers extends upward from high school.

Those interested in volunteering can contact a representative of West Overton Museums at 724-887-7910.

Kaidia Pickels is a contributing writer.